A Treatise On the Law and the Gospel

Seeing as how the law/gospel distinction is becoming rather a hot topic on my blog, I thought I would direct readers to John Colquhoun’s magnificent treatise on the subject. Right at the get-go, he says this: “Every passage of sacred Scripture is either law or gospel, or is capable of being referred either to the one or to the other” (p. xxv). So much for the idea of law/gospel distinction being only Lutheran. Here is an entire treatise proving it. He goes on to say, maybe even more tellingly, “If they blend the law with the gospel or, which is the same thing, works with faith, especially in the affair of justification, they will thereby obscure the glory of redeeming grace and prevent themselves from attaining joy and peace in believing” (xxvi). This is a Presbyterian (Church of Scotland) minister who lived from 1748-1827, and was heavily influenced by the Marrow Theology, and the writings of Thomas Boston.

Jesus and the Believer

Douglas Wilson has responded to my post with this reply over on his blog. It is certainly a courteous reply, for which I am grateful. Heat is sometimes useful, but can often cloud the issues, when light is what is needed.

His counter-argument can be summarized this way: in Christ we find law and gospel integrated in perfect harmony. Even though he does not say this, he would probably agree that because it is integrated in the Head (Jesus Christ), so also it is integrated in the members (that’s us) by virtue of union with Christ. He didn’t draw an explicit line from Christ to the believer, but this probably how he would proceed. If he disagrees, I’m sure he will let us know.

He argues that it follows from this that the law and the gospel do sweetly comply one with another, and that if the giving of the law at Mount Sinai was part of the covenant of grace, then my position would be out of accord with the Westminster Standards, as well as with a few more recent theologians.

To the first part of the answer, I would reply that not everything that is true of the Head is true of the members. To get at this, we need to go back to the Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace distinction. Adam and Eve were bound to perform the terms of the CoW, which were not only negative (in the command concerning the tree), but also positive (the cultural mandate, and the implied command to worship no other god but the one true God). This Adam failed to do, thus desecrating the CoW Sabbath structure (see Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 140). He failed to attain to everlasting life. This Christ rectified, and attained on our behalf. Hence the CoG is a Covenant of Grace for us, but it is not grace for Jesus. Hence, in the matter of how we obtain what Christ did, there is not a parallel between Head and members.

To answer the second part of the response, I would say that the law and the gospel do sweetly comply with one another…in sanctification. And they sweetly comply with one another in Christ’s obtaining justification for us, since by His law-keeping we obtain grace. But in the matter of our obtaining justification, the law and the gospel are utterly opposed. I don’t know how Paul can be any clearer on this than when he says that we are justified not by works (law-keeping) but by grace. Paul makes an absolute antithesis between law and gospel in justification.

One final comment on Westminster West. The Law/Gospel distinction is not the invention of WSC, nor is WSC’s take on sola fide. For proof of this, see these posts (part 1, part 2, part 3). I strongly encourage all readers of this blog to read those posts carefully. I will say this: if it’s Westminster West’s fault for “corrupting” me on this issue, then blessed be this “corruption.”